Top Ten Lists

Smoky Mountains

 
The Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the US, with more than 12 million tourists enjoying the park in 2020 alone according to the NPS. It also happens to be one of the few free national parks. the easy accessibility from many big cities in the South may also contribute to its' popularity.

The giant 520,000+ acre stretch of land, which borders the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, is known for its' rich variety of plant and animal life. Biologists estimate that over 1500 black bears currently inhabit the park, making it one of the largest protected areas for bears in the country.

With endless hiking trails, waterfalls, scenic drives, shows, and touristy attractions, there's plenty of nature to explore and fun to be had on a Smokies vacation.
 
 
  • 1. Hike to Laurel Falls
    Hike to Laurel Falls
    Little River Rd., , 37862
    The Smokies is home to several easily accessible waterfalls. The most popular is a short 1.3 mile paved trail to Laurel Falls. This one is super popular for several reasons. First, the hike is relatively moderate. Second, it's easily accessible (right down the road from the Sugarland's Visitor Center). And third, it's the most gorgeous waterfall in the park.

    Despite the traffic (visit on a weekday if possible), the 80 foot Laurel Falls is quite stunning. You will get in a great workout walking up to the falls, although this one is easy enough where you can still enjoy the rest of your day. This trail is one of your best bets for seeing a black bear. Always be on guard and keep your distance!

    Note - Parking fills up fast on weekends. Get here early to ensure a spot (before 8am).
  • 2. Walk across Skybridge
    Walk across Skybridge
    765 Parkway, , 37738
    One of the Smokie's newest attractions is a must do for anyone not scared of heights. Skybridge, at 680 feet, is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the country. Although quite pricey, you get a lot for your money here as not only get to walk across the bridge, but also get to take a scenic chair lift ride up.

    The views are gorgeous at 1800 feet! The bridge is a bit shaky, and thus, not recommended for anyone afraid of heights. For anyone else, take this opportunity to enjoy some of the best views of the Smokies at Gatlinburg's newest attraction!
  • 3. Enjoy 360 degree views at Clingman's Dome
    Enjoy 360 degree views at Clingman's Dome
    Clingman's Dome Rd., , 28713
    The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, at 6643 feet, is Clingman's Dome. It's also the 3rd highest mountain east of the Mississippi. For terrific mountain views without much effort, Clingman's is one of your best hiking bets in the Smokies.

    A short 1/2 mile paved trail leads you up to a gorgeous overlook with 360 degree views of the Smokies. The trail is fairly steep, but short, so doable by most in decent shape. On a clear day, the views are fabulous. If you are up for more hiking, you can also access a portion of the Appalachian trail here (the highest point along the 2180 mile long stretch!).

    Note that the road to get here is closed December-March.
  • 4. Stay at Timber Tops
    Stay at Timber Tops
    1440 Upper Middle Creek Rd., , 37876
    There are more than enough cabin rentals to choose amongst in the Smokies area, so many that it is hard to choose which way to go. Timber Tops is a fantastic locally owned company which offers an immense variety of cabin rentals, many with attractive amenities such as large patios, hot tubs, pool tables, firepits, and even an indoor swimming pool. Each cabin is nestled in the beautiful woods, with many featuring spectacular vistas of the mountains.

    The best part of all is that you are far away from all the commotion, yet close enough to go out if you choose to do so. Free attraction tickets come with each stay so you can save a few bucks there. Prices vary based on size and amenities. Check the website for special promotions.
  • 5. Take a cruise along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
    Take a cruise along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
    Roaring Fork Motor Nature, , 37738
    The most scenic drive in the Smokies is a beautiful 5 mile long drive known as Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail. This slow curvy drive is very scenic, and thus, a perfect alternative for anyone who prefers not to work up a sweat hiking. There are beautiful waterfalls, creek views, and several preserved historic buildings to enjoy along the way.

    If you do feel like exploring a bit, the Grotto Falls trail is a wonderful 2.5 mile adventure to a beautiful waterfall. With tranquil mountains streams, lovely views of hardwood forest, colorful fall foliage, and ample wildlife sightings, this drive is a great addition to any Smokie's bucket list, anytime of the year (the road is typically closed from late Nov-early April).
  • 6. See a show
    See a show
    Various, , 37863
    There are no shortage of shows in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge region, with dinner shows being amongst the most popular. Country Tonite Theater, Dolly Parton's Stampede, and Pirate's Voyage are amongst the tourist favorites.

    After a long day out on the trails, treat yourself to an entertaining and relaxing show. From dinner shows, to magic shows, to musical theater, there's something here for everyone.
  • 7. Visit Cherokee
    Visit Cherokee
    Various, , 28751
    Cherokee is an easy daytrip from the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area if you are seeking an easy, enjoyable daytrip. The Cherokee area is most famous for being home to the Harrah's Cherokee casino. Additionally, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian Oconaluftee Indian are amongst the more popular tourist attractions. However, the best things to do in the region are natural and free.

    Mingo Falls and Soco Falls are 2 easily accessible waterfalls on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Soco is the only roadside waterfall in the area, and thus, a perfect choice for non hikers. This beautiful double waterfall is quite a mesmerizing sight. Mingo Falls, a 200+ foot beauty, requires a short quarter of a mile hike (161 steps). Overall, Cherokee is a perfect daytrip destination for anyone seeking to escape the Smokie's hustle and bustle for a day.
  • 8. Stay and Play at the Wilderness at the Smokies
    Stay and Play at the Wilderness at the Smokies
    1424 Old Knoxville Hwy, , 37876
    This hotel/waterpark is a fun place to stay as you have several restaurants, an indoor/outdoor waterpark, arcade, bowling, and convenient access to two 18 hole championship golf courses. The rates are reasonable compared to other places in the city and they often offer attractive specials.

    Wilderness at the Smokies is located in the Sevierville area. Sevierville offers a number of its' own attractions including wineries, an outlet mall, a historic covered bridge, a cave tour, and a popular outlet mall. Also, you are within a half hour drive of Gatlinburg, and an easy daytrip from most hikes in the Smokies.
  • 9. Explore downtown Gatlinburg
    Explore downtown Gatlinburg
    1001 Parkway, , 37738
    Downtown Gatlinburg is the Smokie's hotspot for dining, shopping, and entertainment. This is the place to be after a day exploring the wonderful hiking trails/outdoor adventures in the area. First off, there are an abundance of restaurants in this area, including a number of popular breakfast establishments (The Pancake Pantry is a must try). The Village Shops, a beautiful German inspired village is another must see. This area is loaded with cute souvenir shops, a great coffeeshop, and numerous places to dine.

    The entertainment options in this area are pretty endless. Arcades, wine tastings, Ripley's, Hollywood Stars Car Museum, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg Pinball Museum, and Hillbilly mini golf are just a few of the more popular options.

    The highlight here is Ober Gatlinburg, the premier ski resort in the Southeast. No matter the season, you can enjoy a scenic 2 mile ride on the enclosed aerial tramway up to a 2813 foot observation deck. Other activities on-site include a real ice rink, a mountain coaster, a chairlift ride, ice bumper cars, and a rock climbing wall.
  • 10. Spend the day in Pigeon Forge
    Spend the day in Pigeon Forge
    Parkway Drive, , 37863
    Like Gatlinburg, nearby Pigeon Forge offers a host of attractions, with endless entertainment and restaurants to enjoy. The town offers a mix of the standard big chain restaurants, plus numerous local establishments. The Old Mill Restaurant is one of the more popular tourist destinations. The wait is super long, but the ambiance can't be beat, and they serve a fantastic Thanksgiving plate all year-round!

    The most famous site over here is the Dollywood theme park. Arcades, gift shops, mini golf, and various touristy museums line the always heavily trafficked "Parkway Drive." The most worthwhile attraction is the Titanic Museum. If you are a fan of the movie, you will definitely want to swing by for a tour. This massive museum contains over 400 artifacts housed in a half size scale replica of the ship.